Big Publishing

Publishing’s remarkable resilience is amazing: Hachette UK’s David Shelley

18 February 2018

From LiveMint:

In 18 short years, David Shelley has gone from being an editorial assistant and then publishing director at independent publisher Allison and Busby, to becoming chief executive of Hachette UK last month—a career that’s nothing short of phenomenal. Along the way, the Oxford graduate in English literature has also been the CEO of Little, Brown and Orion.

Shelley is seen as one of the hottest young talents in global publishing and has worked with authors such as J.K. Rowling and Mitch Albom. A passionate advocate for publishers adapting to the digital environment, Shelley also oversees Hatchette UK’s inclusion initiative, Changing the Story.

. . . .

Congratulations on your new position David. What are your plans now for Hachette UK?

I think one thing is really exciting: there is the potential for understanding consumers better. Very successful businesses like Amazon or Netflix are extraordinary in the way they use data, algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In book publishing, we’re just sort of starting on that. So I feel for me this is an exciting time coming to the job I’m doing. At the moment, we’re publishing a book, putting a cover on it and hoping for the best. I think it’s really probable that in the years to come, we will test a book before we publish it. We will also look to see what people’s reactions are. We ought to know how to describe a book in a way that excites people, and what cover to put on that really interests readers. We’re only as good as the authors we publish. On the other hand, we will be a brilliant partner for authors if we can get them to as many readers as possible.

. . . .

Opinions are divided within the sector about the health of the publishing industry. What’s your take?

I think that publishing is a little bit like farming. If you get a group of farmers together, they’re always going to disagree about the harvest or the market. I think it is the same for publishers. It often feels like something very big is happening—certainly in the UK, a few years ago, supermarkets started keeping books and this started destroying small bookshops. Now we have Amazon. I think these things come and go; the amazing thing about publishing is its remarkable resilience, and that’s because of people’s desire for long-form content, both fiction and non-fiction. If you look at book sales, then the value can go up and down but actually the number of sales remains very stable and strong. The industry probably needs to become more a part of the digital world. And that doesn’t mean just publishing e-books, but how we operate in the digital environment. We need to understand online retail very well, as well as the connection between offline and online retail. We are in a pretty strong place, with some challenges.

Link to the rest at LiveMint and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Testing a product with potential customers before releasing it has been routine in the reality-based business world for 60 years, maybe more.

PG suggests the bar for qualifying as one of the “hottest young talents in global publishing” is extremely low.

Book Publishers and Book Lovers Are Destroying the Planet

15 February 2018

From TCK Publishing:

Is your love of books hurting the environment?

Every year we trash more than 16,000 truckloads of books that were never even read once. That’s enough books to fill both the British Library and the Library of Congress twice.

The sad truth is that around 10 million of the trees that are killed to create books die in vain each year, because the books end up getting destroyed instead of being read.

“The book industry is hurting the planet through inefficient manufacturing, distribution, and forecasting,” said Tom Corson-Knowles, CEO of TCK Publishing, an environmentally friendly book publisher based in Indianapolis. “Part of our responsibility as citizens of the planet is to be aware of when things we love might have unintended consequences.”

TCK Publishing is calling on publishers and readers to:

  • Become aware of the detrimental environmental impact books make on the planet
  • Discuss the problem and propose solutions

Book Publishing’s Environmental Problems

The publishing industry hurts the planet in several ways:

  1. When a traditional large book publisher decides to release a book, they estimate about how many copies they’ll sell, and then add a margin of error. Most of the time, though, those tens of thousands of copies don’t all get sold. Books often get left in the publisher’s warehouse without ever being ordered or shipped to customers.
  2. If a bookstore can’t sell its copies, it’s entitled to request a full refund from the publisher. However, shipping books is expensive. So instead of sending the books back, bookstores often rip the covers off and send only those back to the publisher as proof that the book has been taken out of circulation. Those damaged books are often pulped: ground up, mixed with certain chemicals, and recycled into paper for other uses.
  3. The paper recycling process involves a lot of energy (typically generated from coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuel sources) and also a lot of chemicals like bleaches and solvents meant to break the paper down so that it can be cleaned, processed, and made into new products.
  4. Printing books is environmentally expensive. Paper manufacturing is the third-largest user of fossil fuels worldwide, requiring significant amounts of oil and gas at many phases of the process of turning trees into books.

“Is that really how we want to do things?” he said.

Link to the rest at TCK Publishing and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry

11 February 2018

From Medium:

Sometimes, it’s in the form of inappropriate comments.

An author wrote, “An editor who was considering my work commented very thoroughly on my body type as a possible personal advantage of working with me.” For her now, “it makes submissions feel like a minefield.”

For an author/illustrator, it was at a book party with a famous illustrator; “I introduce myself to him,” she writes, “and he makes a crack about my breasts.” After enough incidents like these she’s “completely stopped socializing in this business because each time it becomes another abuse story.”

Sometimes the comments are more pointed, like for the publicist who says her supervisor told her he had a crush on her and if he wasn’t married and twice her age he would ask her out. Or a writer’s conference attendee who says that a faculty member asked her if she was “kinky” at the opening mixer. Or the aspiring illustrator who won a mentorship contest, and at the end of her meeting with the mentor she said she had to go get a drink of water because she was hot. According to her, “he said ‘Yes, you are.’ And squeezed my arm. And raised his eyebrows in a suggestive way.”

These are the sort of events we’re told to brush off — they’re jokes, they’re flattering, no big deal. But when you believe you are a professional and someone informs you they see you as a sex object, it can shatter your sense of self and your sense of safety.

. . . .

And sometimes, the stories reveal serial predators unchecked by an industry that does not want to acknowledge such things could be possible of its men.

We work in children’s books, and we like to think we are different, somehow. We value “kindness.” The ranks of publishers are populated with women. And everyone is so nice, right?

But we aren’t different, and before we can do anything about sexual harassment, we need to face that reality. And the reality is that a culture of “kindness” can silence people who have been harassed, that women can be complicit in a culture of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, and that the people who we work alongside, whose books we care about, who we like, can be sexual harassers.

. . . .

“Kidlit is filled with women,” writes another editor, “but a lot of the senior staff are still men…How many women have left the industry because of hostile work environments who could be running things today? We shouldn’t have to suffer to earn respect.”

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says this is one more reason to indie publish. You avoid all the perverts that infest traditional publishing.

He should have started counting the reasons to indie publish a long time ago, then he would have a specific number to quote. Something in the zillions.

Book Publisher Revenues Flat for First Three Quarters of 2017

7 February 2018

From The Association of American Publishers:

For the first three quarters of the year publishers’ revenues (sales to bookstores, wholesalers, direct to consumer, online retailers, etc.) were flat (-0.5%) compared to the same period in 2016. Trade books saw slightly declining revenues (-0.9%) for the year-to-date.

The book publishing industry’s largest category (31.1% of the market) Adult Books – was flat (+0.4%) for the year-to-date. Conversely, both Children’s and Young Adult Books (-3.5%) and Religious Presses (-3.3%) saw declines.

The categories with the most growth were those with small shares of the overall book publishing market -Professional Books (+6.2%) and University Presses (+4.6%).

. . . .

Downloaded audio has been growing by double digits over the past three years, and the first three quarters of 2017 reflect continued growth, with publisher revenue up +26.2%.

. . . .

Publisher revenues for eBooks generally decline, with publisher revenues down -5.5% for the first three quarters of 2017 vs 2016.

. . . .

Publisher net revenue is tracked monthly by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and includes sales data from about 1,200 publishers.

Link to the rest at The Association of American Publishers

AAP Approves New Mission Statement

6 February 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Maria Pallante has kept a relatively low public profile since taking over as president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers last January, but the organization’s January newsletter gives an indication of some of the things she has been working on.

In a note to members, Pallante said that the AAP has been “focused on questions of governance and strategic direction, working to ensure that we are strongly positioned for the future.” To that end, the AAP’s board has crafted a new mission statement, which they adopted on Nov. 2, 2017. The statement reads:

“The Association of American Publishers represents the leading book, journal, and education publishers in the United States on matters of law and policy, advocating for outcomes that incentivize the publication of creative expression, professional content, and learning solutions. As essential participants in local markets and the global economy, our members invest in and inspire the exchange of ideas, transforming the world we live in one word at a time.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes the photo accompanying the OP shows the new president standing in front of a nine-volume set of Nimmer on Copyright (PG thinks it’s up to 11 volumes now).  Nimmer is not something you want to read while lying in bed lest you wake up with a permanent dent in your sternum. Even if you escape the dent, you’ll wake up as an ardent proponent of ebooks.

If you order Nimmer on Amazon, be prepared to offer your UPS delivery person a tip and a cold drink of water, particularly if you live above the first floor in a walk-up building.


#MeToo, Coming to a Bookstore Near You

1 February 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Literary agent Allison Hunter represents a female sommelier working on a book about sexism and harassment in the wine world. Six months ago, Ms. Hunter says, she would have been worried that it wouldn’t sell.

Not anymore.

To explore the commercial possibilities of #MeToo, observers say, look no further than the publishing industry. Editors are tweaking ideas to focus on the strength of the sisterhood, publishers are seeking collaborations with female activists and writers are citing the movement in their pitch letters to agents.

At the same time, the definition of what constitutes a feminist book is changing, expanding to include not only cultural commentaries like Roxane Gay’s “Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture,” out in May, but titles that see female empowerment and political resistance in areas as diverse as fitness, cooking, sex and crafts.

Another literary agent, Myrsini Stephanides, says about six, or roughly half her current projects, are related to #MeToo. Two have already sold. In October, she signed Shannon Downey, a feminist embroidery guru whose wry takedown of sexual harassers using a profane play on the phrase “boys will be boys” went viral last fall. At New York’s Carol Mann Agency, where Ms. Stephanides works, she says the appetite for #MeToo books is fierce. “It’s been constant conversations of ‘How can we contribute to this conversation?’ ”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes traditional publishing has never seen a serious topic it could not trivialize in its constant quest to curate our culture.

Decolonize Our Shelves

28 January 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

WI13 keynote speaker Junot Diaz delivered a blistering political statement on Wednesday morning, in what will surely enter the annals of Winter Institute history. Diaz denounced the nativism of white conservatives who catapulted Donald Trump into the White House, as well as the hypocrisy of white liberals, in the publishing industry and beyond, who do little more than talk about promoting diversity.

Quoting Malcolm X, Diaz said that people of color always know where they stand with white conservatives, who don’t hide their beliefs. However white liberals, he said, “lure” people of color to them by pretending to be their allies. The liberals, he went on, then fail to support people of color in substantive ways.

. . . .

Admitting that he and his friends were desperate to find some respite from the daily abuse, Diaz said that while some of them turned to music or sports, or “[lost] it completely,” he “found books,” thanks to his elementary school librarian. She took Diaz on a tour of the school library and told him that “all the books on the shelves were mine.” Books, Diaz said, saved his life by providing “shelter against a white world that sometimes felt like it was trying to destroy me.”

“In a better world,” Diaz said, “that is where this story would end.” The books he read, though, reinforced the messages he was receiving in his community. From Laura Ingalls Wilder writing that there were “no people, only Indians” on the plains, to J.R.R. Tolkien’s comparing black people to trolls, books reinforced Diaz’s sense of being an outsider.

“Kids like me did not exist in the literature,” he said. “What kid doesn’t want to see themselves represented in the literature they’re reading?”

While praising the fact that there is more attention being paid to diversity in the publishing industry, Diaz said that it’s not enough. Criticizing the book industry for being a business where predominantly white gatekeepers publish predominantly white authors, Diaz said there needs to be a diversification of “our publishing infrastructure.” The book world, he declared, has to resist “white supremacy’s cruelest enchantment: that whiteness is at the heart of absolutely everything.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

A changing book business: it all seems to be flowing downhill to Amazon

23 January 2018

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Amazon showed a willingness to sell ebooks for Kindle at prices below the costs publishers charged them, the big legacy publishers became alarmed. They could see no end to the switch to ebooks and it seemed logical to figure out a way to encourage competition across ebook ecosystems.

Their solution, aided and abetted by the new Apple iBooks ecosystem that debuted in April of 2010, was to move from “wholesale” pricing, where the retailer controlled the ultimate price to the consumer, to “agency”, where the publisher was the seller to the consumer and controlled the price. The intermediary — the retailer — was just an “agent” without pricing power.

This led to anti-trust action by the US government by which agency pricing was allowed, but only by newly negotiated agreements between each of the major publishers and their vendors, including Amazon. And the DOJ made sure that those agreements entitled the retail “agent” to discount from the publisher’s agency price, as long as the aggregated discounts to consumers didn’t exceed the retailers’ aggregate margin on those ebooks.

They needn’t have bothered. Amazon was essentially done with the strategy of discounting big publishers’ ebooks. And big publishers are left wondering whether they should be glad they got what they wished for. Let’s remember that those discounts from Amazon came from their share of the price; now with agency protocols, publishers can only discount ebooks by reducing their own take!

. . . .

Author-driven publishing just continued to grow as Kindle and the other ebook installed base grew faster and faster when smartphones and tablets both spread like wildfire and removed the need for a dedicated ebook device. With Amazon establishing a royalty rate for its own self-published authors of 70 percent of the selling price, equivalent to what agency publishers collected, successful self-publishers could make substantial money with very low-priced ebooks and zero or near-zero revenues from print.

. . . .

[E]ach week now, a handful of those genre Amazon Publishing ebook titles are handily selling more units than most of the titles on the NYT and USA Today’s best seller lists. Amazon found it relatively easy to grow market share in those areas where the bookstore sale, and even the online print sale, was diminishing in favor of the ebook.

. . . .

That has produced the world where big publishers with their agency-priced ebooks tell us that ebook sales have flattened or declined and that print book sales are holding their own, but Amazon says ebook sales are continuing to grow. And it is also a world where the big publishers are working feverishly, and largely futilely, to make their non-Amazon sales grow.

. . . .

Data Guy, first encouraged by indie author star Hugh Howey (one of the early beneficiaries of the changed marketplace), is now one of the principals behind, an online-sales database built by scraping Amazon and other major online retailers. Bookstats’s realtime dashboard presents a consolidated, title-level view of the online US market, current through yesterday. It includes Amazon sales. It separates out Amazon Publishing from the indie authors Amazon enables. And, when used alongside data from Bookscan, Bookstat now lets us back out how brick-and-mortar sales alone are faring in relation to online.

. . . .

1. Amazon continues to grow its share of print and digital sales. It appear to be approaching half of all print sales and more than 90% of ebook sales.

Data Guy says:

On the print front, Amazon is indeed very close to half the US market: Our own Bookstat-derived total of 312 million print units sold by Amazon in 2017 is 45.5% of Bookscan’s total reported 2017 print sales of 687 million, which means Amazon sales now comprise the majority of Bookscan’s “Club & Retail” share. Even allowing for the other 15%-20% of US print sales that remain untracked by Bookscan, that puts Amazon’s US print share is at least 40%. And that’s ignoring another 10-15 million unreported Amazon print sales a year from CreateSpace titles that aren’t trackable through Ingram “expanded distribution.”

Amazon’s share of of US print sales is still growing rapidly. In the prior year, 2016, the 280 million Amazon online print sales Bookstat reports were only 41.7% of 674 million total units and in 2015 Bookstall’s 246 million print unit total for Amazon was only 37.7% of Bookscan’s 653 million reported units. So Amazon’s online print sales continue to grow by a double digit percentage each year.

Barnes & Noble — the next largest retailer of print books, from their public financial reporting, was by our math contributing 23% of Bookscan’s total in 2017 — which means that B&N has shrunk to where it now moves only half as many print books a year as Amazon, and B&N’s own financials show those remaining B&N sales are shrinking by 4% a year.

. . . .

2. The overall market is growing, but Amazon Publishing and indies are the growing segments. All legacy publishing, including the Big Five, are sharing from a diminishing pool of “what’s left” after that growth.

. . . .

3. Legacy publishing below the Big Five is suffering more, seeing their market share increase at Amazon even faster than the major houses are.

. . . .

In ebook sales, both Big Five and non-Big Five legacy publishers have ceded a huge chunk of market share to non-traditional players over the last several years; roughly half of the ebook market in unit terms, and nearly a third of it in dollar terms.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG has witnessed disruptive change driven by new technologies in several different industries (and participated in more than one of those changes).

From that viewpoint (admittedly personal), PG suggests that no industry has reacted to a disruptive innovation – ecommerce and ebooks – in a more pathetic and self-defeating manner than Big Publishing and its bricks-and-mortar sales and distribution infrastructure.

At every major juncture, when faced with a decision, Big Publishing has chosen the wrong path.

Antitrust violations, understanding ebooks in the marketplace, allying itself with Apple and against Amazon, failing to hire people who might have had a chance to revive a moribund industry (It’s too late now.), engaging in the sleaziest tactics with authors (Hello Harlequin!) etc., etc., etc.

PR spinmeisters (“digital fatigue” “back to print), trying to get the Justice Department to bring an antitrust case against Amazon for selling ebooks at low prices, looking at opportunity and seeing dystopia and so forth.

Toni Morrison: ‘Part of the Business of Editing Is Telling People to Shut Up’

14 January 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Sonia Sanchez: Do you think editors are curators of culture?

Toni Morrison: Well, they can be. If you take that work seriously. Some of it’s just profit, and we know the editors and the houses where some of them do that. And then there are places and there are editors whom I know, and even houses in which something else is important, which is something that if they think the culture needs to be fed, there’s a kind of work—and it’s very, very different. It’s interesting—when I was listening to Ta-Nehisi talk about reparations—the very first book I published at Random House was [The Case forBlack Reparations by Boris Bittker. I published that book!

. . . .

I remember sitting at a sales conference where they discussed the books that the editors are offering, and the salesmen’s response about what they thought they could do. Random House was interesting in editing because each editor did his or her own thing and then went to the head guy for money. You pulled your own weight as far as selecting books. It wasn’t a committee decision, it was an individual decision.

So, this man, salesman, said to me, about some book I published, which was—I don’t know if this was Gayl Jones or something like that, a black woman writer whom I thought was fantastic, you know, she wrote Generations [NOTE: Jones’s novel was called Corregidora, about a blues singer forced into having children, or “making generations,” and instructing them to remember her family’s history in slavery] and I was just blown away. But the salesman said, “You understand, don’t you, that we can’t sell this book on the same side of the street,” by which he meant, it’s a book about African-Americans and they will buy it—or not—but we can’t sell it to the regular bookstores, which cater principally to white purchasers.

And so I felt funny about that, and I thought—something you said earlier Sonia, about being pulled off the stage if you aren’t any good? And I thought that this was important. Suppose I published a book that was “good enough” for black people—one that would not be pulled off the stage. One in which the criteria was higher than what the salesman was talking about. So I thought, it would have to be really, really good. It would have to be popular. It would have to be correct. It would have to be new. It would have to just encompass everything that I thought would interest African-Americans—good stuff, bad stuff, great stuff, whatever, all together. And I called it The Black Book.

. . . .

And at one point one of the editors came in to me and said, “The boss”—whoever it was at the time; she didn’t say “boss,” she called his name—“would like to talk to you about this book you’re doing. We don’t know what it’s like, and we would like to know.” And I said, “Oh, it’s gonna be fine!” And she said, “Yeah, but, you know, you work here.” And I said, “But I don’t have to.” [Smiles.] So she left.

. . . .

The publicist came to me because I had arranged to have a book party. And where would I have a book party? Uptown. And I rented Smalls or whatever, one of two or three very well-known uptown restaurants. And they said, “Yes, of course, just don’t mess with the bar, because I have patrons who come here. The rest of the place you can have.” So I have this wonderful site for this fantastic publication of this book. And the publicist comes to me and says, once she finds out the location of the party, “Don’t you think we should take some police with us?” And I said, “You want to bring some cops up to Harlem? What is that!?”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why Comedians Are Trying To Conquer The Book World

13 January 2018
Comments Off on Why Comedians Are Trying To Conquer The Book World

From Nylon:

Right now on iTunes, some of the most popular podcasts are run by comedians; The Joe Rogan Experience, NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, The Pat McAfee Show, and more are all cracking the top 100. Comedian Heather McDonald, who previously appeared on Chelsea Lately, started her podcast just two and a half years ago and has since accrued nearly 5,000 ratings on iTunes, over 2,000 patrons paying McDonald anywhere from $2 to $50-plus per month, and 19,000 members on her podcast’s Facebook group, Juicy Scoop Obsessed.

And comedians’ domination of the charts makes sense. They’re often natural storytellers, engaging, comfortable with performances, and sharp on their feet. They can use the new medium to connect with audiences—and generate income!—in often unprecedented ways.

But while a turn to podcasts makes sense for comedians, they’ve also long been a part of the literary market, even though books can be a trickier area to conquer. Unlike podcasts, blogs, or social media, you can’t produce and immediately share book content—both because it takes a longer time to create and because, unless you’re self-publishing, you have to clear certain hurdles to get your full-length book in front of audiences and into bookstores.

“When it comes to publishing non-fiction, I think the most common misconceptions are that a book can launch someone’s career, and, also, that any person famous enough can have a successful book,” says Noah Ballard, a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd., who has represented comedians including Josh Gondelman and Andy Boyle.

Peter McGuigan, a literary agent at Foundry Literary + Media, also notes that some people in entertainment are surprised at the small numbers that even the best-selling books are bringing in. “It’s not the ’80s, and these days, people have to adjust their expectations,” he explains.

. . . .

Books can offer comedians a chance to not just tell an isolated funny anecdote but reflect over great spans of time in their lives. Some of that is due to the speed (or lack thereof) of publishing. As comedian Iris Bahr, one of McGuigan’s clients and author of Dork Whore and Machu My Picchu, explains, she can often perform stand-up material that she writes the same day—sometimes the same hour. By contrast, the turnaround time with books is much longer.

That, in turn, leads to different kinds of material that Bahr shares. “I revealed things in my book I don’t think I would have revealed as readily on stage,” she says, noting that the process of writing in a solitary space makes it easy to open up—and forget that one day, there will be a large audience on the other end of it.

. . . .

“Being a celebrity or a successful comedian isn’t enough anymore if you want a book deal,” Ballard explains. “You also have to have a great idea.” He notes that books have to have not only a “hook”—what’s interesting or topical about a project—but also a “platform”—or why people care about that particular writer’s opinion. “The book is the capstone of a body of work framed by a subject on which the author has positioned themselves as an expert,” he explains.

. . . .

“Publishers put a higher-than-ever value on the platform, and since comics are out there, building social media, on TV, podcasts, etc., it’s natural that publishers would suddenly take a greater-than-ever interest in signing them up,” McGuigan says.

Link to the rest at Nylon

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